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The Copenhagen ‘Green Wave’

The following is a guest article by Hugh Prichard, who first introduced to me to the concept of the “Green Wave” at the Transportation Remix last November.  I especially like the stats at the end of the article! —- Seager


The Green Wave in Copenhagen is a creative piece of bicycle infrastructure which costs very little but changes the game dramatically.  During both morning and evening rush hour, traffic lights are set so that maintaining a speed of 12 miles per hour means all you will see is green lights for over two and a half kilometers.  A commuting cyclist will never have to put a foot down from the close-in suburbs right into central Copenhagen.
Here’s a view of the Green Wave as it approaches the busiest bicycle intersection in Europe on Nørrebrogade.

Nørrebrogade

The Green Wave contains a complete cross-section of Cophenhagen Cyclists. Here, the sport coaty urban guy is followed by a red-haired hipster and a spandexed roadie, with the rest of the wave coming up behind. This photo shows that the original bike lane has been expanded with the addition of another lane to the outside. Originally, this new lane was called “the fast lane”. It was quickly seen that this was a bad name since “fast” isn’t desirable in these crowded conditions. The nimble authorities saw the mistake and began calling the inside lane the “conversation lane”, implying that people traveling together, or on slower cargo bikes would do best in this lane.

The Conversation Lane

Cargo bikes, particularly child-filled cargo bikes, enjoy the “conversation lane”.

Cargo Bikes in the Conversation Lane

The corner of Nørrebrogade and Søtorvet sees over 36,000 bicycles per day! For comparison, that is more than the total of All Vehicles on Coburg Road in a 24 hour period. Pictured is the automatic bicycle counter that keeps the data.

Automatic Bike Counter

This busy photo shows the bike traffic as it approaches the intersection. The light is green for all vehicles but the furthest light shows an extra green for bicylists. This light turns green several seconds before the general traffic light, allowing bicyclists to get moving while not competing with automobiles. You can see that the intersection is filled with blue paint for added safety. I watched motorists try to turn right here. Not easy!

Seperate Bike Traffic Lights

Sometimes the Green Wave is too big and the back portion has to stop and put a foot down. This is not such a bad thing…

A Foot Down

The Green Wave has expanded to two more main arterials which both have over 16,000 cyclists per day, making a total for just these three streets of 68,000 riders per day! Copenhagen currently has over 36% of all trips on bicycle. The goal is 50% by 2015. Two last interesting facts which I learned at the Velo-City conference this summer: 25% of Copenhagen families with two or more children now own a cargo bike. This is quite amazing and makes for a whole new problem; where do you park all of these bigger machines? It’s a nice problem to have. Last amazing fact is that 80% of these bicycle commuters continue to ride through the winter. Consider how dark and cold it can be in Denmark on both the morning and evening commute. These people are dedicated!

If you want to see more, there are lots of good videos of the Green Wave on YouTube.

7 comments to The Copenhagen ‘Green Wave’

  • Stephan

    This article is very interesting, but I was really put off by the random sexual objectification and dismemberment (reducing a whole human being to body parts) of women.

  • Hugh Prichard (author & photographer)

    In the bicycle world, “putting a foot down” means stopping. This phrase was used in the first paragraph and then used again here with humorous intent. This female foot is shod in a very unusual bike shoe, by anyone’s standard. I see both beauty and humor in this photograph. You see objectification and dismemberment. O.K.

  • alpha

    Wow, I can’t imagine bicycling in shoes like that.

    Stephan, admiring a woman’s legs is not equivalent to dismemberment. Please relax.

  • Stephan,
    This would probably really ruffle your feather then:
    http://www.copenhagencyclechic.com/

    Alpha-
    It’s all about the bike. With the right bike you can bike in “normal clothes”. Now whether that is normal clothes for you is another question.
    But I think that’s a major change in the “citizen cyclist” idea. It’s not about the gear (rain gear, bike shoes, etc.)- if you get a bike with fenders, chain guard, built-in lights, basket, racks, etc. then you don’t need half the gear “they” say you do.

  • Sam

    I love this video of the Netherlands:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-AbPav5E5M

    I have wished that Eugene would take an alley (11th, 12th, or 13th, etc as they would never give us a street) and turn it into a bike boulevard.

  • alpha

    Shane – I’m all about normal clothes, also dressy clothes bicycling. However, have you ever tried to get a high heel around a pedal? Try it some time. What size do you wear? ;-)

    Thanks for posting the Cycle Chic link. Nice blog!

  • Bob Carlson

    Check out the Bike Boulevard in Palo Alto. I used to commute on this street and it was terrific. Bryant street runs most of the length of Palo Alto Almost all stop signs were removed and a road block or two were added to keep cars from using it too much because of the lack of stop signs. Once you leave downtown, you basically had stop only at three major streets that had lights to reach the southern border of the town. This could easily be implemented on 15th Street here.